Monday, May 8, 2017

NERGC-2017 - Finding Someone Who Eluded Census Records

Directions to the Springfield, MA Civic Center provided by the New England Regional Genealogical Society were easy to follow. We exited I-91 at Columbus Street, onto Main Street, and within a few blocks was the Civic Center where the Fourteenth New England Regional Genealogical Conference was being held. Excitement was mounting!

Parking was right across the street; registration was easy. While we waited to meet our friends Wally and Marian for lunch, we had a long chat with speaker DonnaMoughty. We first met Donna when we lived in Newtown, CT, and she spoke to our newly formed genealogy club. Donna now lives in Florida, is a member of the Manatee Genealogical Society, as are we, so we see her there as well. It was nice to have a chance to visit in Springfield. Donna is a professional genealogist specializing in Irish research along with U.S. research, methodology and technology including Macs, iPhones and iPads.  She provides research, consultations and training. She is one busy lady!

After a delicious lunch at the Red Rose restaurant, my first NERGC session was Finding Someone Who Eluded Census Records, by Carol Prescott McCoy.

There are different types of censuses. The population census is the most used, but there are also industrial, agricultural, Veteran’s, some state censuses, and slave schedules. Note the date when the census was taken, i.e. in 1920, the date was 1 January. Check every year, every type. People moved and could have been missed. Or they were too far out in the country, in dangerous territory, where the census taker didn’t want to go. Sometimes ancestors are listed twice, if they were traveling between residences. And these could contain different information!

Copy/download entire census page to capture neighbors for future searches. Record all members of the household. Sometimes boarders or “servants” can be relatives. Record names, ages, and places exactly as in the census.

Name spelling issues are the most common. Try every variation. If that doesn’t work, find neighbors from previous census. If your ancestors stayed in the same place, finding the neighbors will locate your people. This was the only way we were able to find my New York City Nunn family in the 1900 census. When the census taker was told the last name was Nunn, he thought he was being told “none.” After several attempts at this misunderstanding, he finally wrote the deceased father’s first name “Joseph,” as the last name, scribbled in with the wife’s first name – a real mess. I located them because I found a 1905 New York Times article where Elizabeth Nunn (eldest daughter) sued her neighbor for return of money Elizabeth had entrusted with the woman in 1900. When I untangled that mess, I found the family!

Census Substitutes. Town records, tax lists, school lists, old maps, town histories, voter lists are all places where your ancestors’ histories reside. Hubby and I developed an 1890 Census Substitute for Newtown, Connecticut by using tax records, school and voter lists, and some church records. It was our hope that other towns would follow suit in order to fill in this 20 year gap.

My best takeaways: Develop a census database. This can be done for each person or by family, to sort by last name as well as date. Develop a timeline (I did that years ago, but it is a good reminder to review and update.) FAN Club - Follow friends, associates and neighbors. Be flexible!

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